The Tao of Fighting Games: Frame Data

Jun 22 2020 4 min read
Bandai Namco

To the novice and inexperienced, hearing players discuss Frame Data is like listening to gibberish. But, we want to help you make sense of it.

To the novice and inexperienced, hearing players discuss Frame Data is like listening to gibberish. Realizing they're actually making sense is daunting, but watching them use that knowledge against you could mean the death of all your fighting game zeal. 

It doesn't have to be that way, though. The knowledge of Frame Data isn't a prerequisite to playing fighting games unless you intend to make it to the pinnacle of competitive play. It's a tool professional players use to determine which moves are advantageous in whatever situation they find themselves. Yet, Frame Data is not exclusive to top tier players. Anyone can learn Frame Data, and whatever your skill level, it will always be advantageous knowledge. 

Actions in games are often measured in frames, and this is mainly the case in fighting games. Frame Data refers to the number of frames it takes a move to start and how many to recover after registering a hit, miss, or getting blocked. 

Frame data

Startup Frames

Frame Data can be used to determine the attack speed of a move. Figuring out how fast or slow your attacks are will help you determine how best to punish your opponents, especially if you know the Frame Data of their characters as well. Thus, it helps you determine what your safest options are in any circumstance. 

It is advisable to first learn what your favorite character's fastest attacks are. These will quickly become your go-to moves. In most games, these will include light attacks that sacrifice damage for speed. It's also a good idea to look into the Frame Data of your favorite moves, as they may be the reason why you keep getting hit. 

While most moves are positive (+3, +4, etc) on hit, really powerful moves are often found to be negative (- 3, - 4, etc) after connecting, making them a double-edged sword. 

Recovery

How safe or unsafe an attack is means how quickly your character recovers from it. Think of it as how long it takes your character to attack once more after your initial hit connects or is blocked. If you're able to block immediately after being blocked yourself, then your attack is safe. However, if your opponent is able to attack you before you're able to block, then it's unsafe. The higher the negative frames, the worse your recovery, thereby indicating how unsafe it is. 

Using an attack with -3 recovery against an opponent that has no attack with less than +4 frames means you'll likely always be safe. This is why knowing your opponent's Frame Data is a huge advantage. However, if your opponent has an attack that is +3 and your recovery is - 4, then your attack is unsafe and they get to punish you. 

Skillful players still make use of unsafe moves, but at a distance that makes them safe from being punished. This is referred to as simply making the move safe. Players should also take notice of the active frames of their attacks. It's the frames that carry an attack's hitbox and precede the move's recovery frames. 

Frame data

Where’s my Frame Data?

Not all fighting games provide players with Frame Data, but it’s becoming a feature fans expect in their games. For games that don’t support it, players would record gameplay at 60fps via a capture device and then painstakingly count the number of frames after inputting a move. Thankfully, there’s hardly any need to do this anymore, mostly because someone else already did it for you and has posted it somewhere on the internet. However, on the off chance that Frame Data isn’t available for the game you love, now you know what you need to do to get it yourself. 

Here are a few other terms related to Frame Data:

Blockstring

To pull off a blockstring, players use positive block frame data to punish their opponents that try to hit back on negative frame data. Also referred to as applying pressure, it is commonly used in situations where you prevent an opponent from grabbing you by using a positive attack and then grab them afterward. 

To link is when two attacks are performed in quick succession, while a cancel is the ability to cancel normal moves into specials and other types of moves specific to the fighting game you're playing. Both lead to the creation of combos, with positive frames on hit determining which attacks form the building blocks of your combination attack. 

Meaty

Meaties are the act of landing an attack on a frame after the initial active frame. It makes attacks less negative to positive attacks on block, and allows the application of otherwise unusable links. 

Cinematic frames

Cinematic Frames

Each fighting game has different terms for their flashy big specials, like Skybound Arts, and Final Smash, but besides big damage, another thing they often have in common is a cinematic portion. Be it an intro, outro, or both, these segments of the game pause all the action for a couple of frames that players have used to force timeouts and implement other similar delay tactics.

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